I met Colin Rich in Delta; just a few selection classes behind me, he was. Born in Massachusetts, he had the accent and temperament of our fiery New England brothers. His accent and his sense of humor were two things that gravitated me to him during down time, to tell preposterous lies and shoot the shit (BKSE). My call sign then was Chik; Colin’s was Chainsaw.
“So how does it feel, Chik, to be a flat-landah?” He would often ask.
A flat-lander was was a term of moderate disrespect, but more so endearment for anyone who was from a low plains state such as Oklahoma, where I was born.
“Just peachy, Chainsaw… how does it feel to be a yankee bastard?”
“Yorra stinkah, you ahh Chik” and so it went.
I was blessed with many great years in Delta with Colin; many trips, many opportunities to suffer together, building strong bonds. To say that Colin suffered was an understatement. During his Operator Training Course (OTC) at the unit, he was struck high in the forehead by a .45 caliber ACP FMJ bullet, a stray round fired by another student in a very tight combat situation.
The .45 ACP is a slow-moving round, but with monumental knock down power. Because of the low velocity and the angle of impact high on his curved skull, the round did not penetrate his skull, but the force imparted a significant whiplash, one that plagues him to this day.
It left a perfect bullet profile scar on his head, just above his hairline… but in the shower or swimming pool, the scar stuck out when he brushed his wet hair back. Chainsaw was quick to quip at every opportunity: “Sure, I need that like I need another hole in the head.”
If that were not enough, Colin had a wreck on a motorcycle, in which the kickstand of the bike was driven through one of his calves. He was quick to recover and get back into the fight. In my own class one of my peers took a 9 x 19mm Plus P round through his leg, again in a tight combat shooting scenario. He took the rest of the week off, returning the following Monday. That same week we had a nine mile run. This brother fell back toward the end of the run, but he did NOT fall out. Where we get such men, I have no clue.
Chainsaw and I spent three months together in the (then) recently collapsed former Yugoslavia. Each day we climbed into our respective vehicles of our armored convoy and commenced with ‘pre-flight’ radio checks. Early on our comms checks sound like this:
“Chainsaw, Chainsaw, this is Chik; radio check, how do you read this station? –over.”
“Chik, Chik, this is Chainsaw… read you Lima Charlie, how me? –over?”
“Chainsaw, this is Chick… have you also Lima Charlie –out.”
Toward the end of three grueling months of duty in the Balkans, our more truncated comms checks leaned toward the following format:
“Chain, Chik, check?”
“Chik, Chain, chuck.”
One of my fondest memories of Chainsaw in Bosnia was going to his ‘room’ to invite him down to the cantina for a beer at night, or a ‘cacktail’ as he would call it with his Bostonian accent. His room was made of sheets of plywood about eight feet high, with a thin plywood door that you had to hold with two fingers to knock on it, lest it swung open.
It was purely a formality to even knock, as the gap between the plywood door and the jamb was so wide, you would be just standing there looking at each other through the gap as you knocked. Chainsaw would look up at me from where he was laying on his cot and answer: “Come on in, Chik… yoh the next contestant, on What the Fuck Do You Want!”
Chainsaw left the unit by and by, and took a first sergeant’s position in a company in the 82nd Airborne Division; A Co./1st Bn. 504th PIR. He deployed to Afghanistan with his company. They say that lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice… it was there in the Stan, on the border with Pakistan, that 1SG Colin “Chainsaw” Rich was struck in the back of the head by Taliban H&K G-3 rifle bullet (7.62 x 51mm [.308].
In fact the round struck his Kevlar Helmet, punching through and breaking into several fragments, along with a sizable segment of bone, all pushing into his brain. That all sounds really terrible, am I right? Yes, it sounds just awful, and then we go into the kitchen for a snack. It’s a second-hand story, after all, but not one that would cause us to miss tonight’s football game; I mean, let’s be real.
What Chain and Chik offer you now is a skip-out of the middleman, and the story as it is told by Colin Rich himself. Chain writes:
As I stated earlier, HOLY CRAP! It literally just hit me, (pun intended), that today is the DAY.. Getting popped upside the head. Certain things stick with you, when struck by high-speed projectiles in the head…Whether you like it, or not.
This may come in bits and pieces, not necessarily in chronological order… And the names have been changed to protect the dip-shits. Where to begin? Should I begin? Will it help? If so who? I am spilling my guts! To… try!?
OK, check this out, when a bullet hits you, it makes a very distinct noise. I have heard the very same noise twice; you’d never forget it. If you take a piece of paper by one corner, snap the diagonal corner with the other hand… that is what a bullet tearing flesh sounds like. (Fact) If the conditions are right…(and they were), you hear the snap of it hitting you, then the sonic crack of the bullet itself that has broken the sound barrier, then you hear the bang of the rifle firing.
I didn’t need to be there…I wanted to have a look around for good hunting areas. I tagged along with some Abraham Lincolns. (The dudes in ball caps).
Colin was out scouting ahead of his company for areas suitable for Taliban targets. He met a team of Green Berets that were moving through the same area, and elected to ride with them at their offer. In the photo below Colin places pennies over the faces of the Green Berets to preserve their identities.
Empty seat I find, take it I do. Tail gun it is, happy I am. Abraham Lincoln comes up…late, and I’m in his seat. No drama, “It’s yours,” I say, “It’s all good,” says he.
Talk we do, medic he is, strange I think, a medic as a tail gunner… I’ll get back to the medic. “It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” That was the very last thing I said to the .50 caliber Abraham Lincoln before the “crack.” He had no jacket with him and was bitching about the cold… a soldier’s right (to bitch).
Trained Observer, I am: I’m looking around at nothing, but everything. What type weapons heavy, medium and light, people watching, terrain. Back to the rifle; I like guns, I collect guns. I asked an Abraham Lincoln, “who are the bitches with the G-3 rifles”? (I own one, you know). “Huh?” says Abraham Lincoln, “I never noticed that.”
Another chimed in they were friendly Waziristani scouts working for the Pakistanis. Either way, it was their cat, I was along for a ride. If you say they’re good guys… OK. Then I see a flag. It was flapping, so I couldn’t really see it, but it was black. I asked the same Abraham Lincoln, “Hey, what the hell is that?” He showed little interest, as they’d been there (the Paki border) many times and replied in much the same manner, huh!
Then…The most violent feeling I had ever experienced from my head to my toes, to my very core! In the blink of an eye, my glasses flew off, and my face slammed forward. I DID NOT lose one second of consciousness, I knew exactly what had just happened. Then, the warm blood on a cold day flowing down my face. At first it felt good. Bleeding bad; make bleeding stop!
We were smack dab in a Taliban gunfight with absolutely no cover, except for the vehicle that was drawing fire. I got up as fast as I could (Growling like a rabid dog) and moved to the fight. Four, or five steps into it, I realize, I can’t fucking see! I need my eyes to shoot. Like EVERYONE around me is. I can’t fucking see! “Kill those mother fuckers, FUCK!”
That was much of what I said: FUCK! Over and over. Someone was nice enough to inform me that I had been shot. My answer, “No shit, kill ‘em!” I grabbed another dude going by and asked if I had blood in my eyes? His reply was, “a little…” Then I knew enough to get out of the way. Why the fuck can’t I see? More to follow… maybe.
Blah, blah, blah, gunfight, break contact.
I vividly remember saying: “Don’t step on my fucking glasses” as I’m being manhandled on the truck. Bleeding like a stuck pig. Again, lots of warm blood on a cold day. I remember thinking how warm my blood is running down my back. Then, FUCK! That is my blood, push harder.
Back to the medic; I did self-aid as he gave first aid. Two things on my mind were (in order): no tail gunner, and my head is bouncing around… ganging my head.
“Slow this fucking vehicle down!” I screamed…and they did, you know.
The immediate affliction that Chainsaw suffered at that moment, aside from immense pain and blood loss, was his eyesight; he was blinded by the bullet injury to his brain. Blinded, as he remains today.
Chain and Chik send